We have been considering a DVD produced by World Video Bible School featuring Dave Miller of Apologetics Press entitled The Silencing of God: The Dismantling of America’s Christian Tradition. We have, so far, considered the presuppositions of the material and have found them lacking. It presupposes that America was a “Christian nation” and that we must work, especially by political means, to “restore” America’s “Christian heritage.” Yet we have seen from the Scriptures that we must work to promote God’s Kingdom, and that God’s Kingdom cannot be limited to any individual nation-state. Furthermore, we have seen that, in truth, America has never been nor will ever be a “Christian nation”
Yet, as we have noted before, the material in the DVD is designed, at least in part, to promote fear of secular authorities and secular organizations. The DVD speaks of “America’s Trilogy of Spiritual Terror,” presuming that what Hollywood, liberal politicians, and liberal secular universities seek ought to strike fear in the hearts of those who have a spiritual worldview. There ought to be fear also over what God will do to America because of abortion and homosexuality (and involving no other issues). The material in the DVD intentionally preys upon Christians’ fears and other emotions in an attempt to galvanize them to some response.
Let us consider, for just a moment, a truly apocalyptic scenario, at least in “Christian Americanist” terms: the complete and utter success of this “liberal agenda” (if it even really exists in truth). Let us fast forward to a time when “godless secularism” has succeeded. At this time, it is now illegal to practice Christianity. Those found practicing Christianity are gathered up, imprisoned, tortured, and executed for show. It is illegal to own a Bible or to speak against socially acceptable practices like abortion, adultery, homosexuality, greed, and such like.
This sounds utterly tragic! Would it be the death of the church? Would the name of Christ no longer be heard on the lips of men?
It is almost certain that the number of people who would at least profess Jesus Christ as Lord would diminish significantly. A majority of people who were inconsistent Christians before are no longer present. Perhaps even some avid churchgoers are not seen among Christian assemblies.
On the other hand, churches are then reduced to the core group of dedicated, devoted disciples of Christ. Furthermore, some who used to be “on the fence” finally counted the cost and were willing to more strongly commit to Jesus. Strangely, some men who otherwise were never seen among Christian assemblies are now present; the danger of belief, and the strong example of their wives, led to their conversions (cf. 1 Peter 3:1).
While it would seem that this extreme loss of freedom and growth of persecution would hurt the church, the church is actually flowering. Many of the divisions of past days have been healed, and Christians are now coming together as one: without church buildings, diminished resources, and concern regarding a greater foe, many have put aside whatever differences existed among them to work together to promote the Kingdom. And their witness is strengthened: people are seeing that Christianity is something worth dying for, and their interest has become stronger. Many more commit to following Jesus, fully cognizant that it may lead to their own humiliation and death.
So, in the face of the terrible, tyrannical, persecuting foe, Christianity is in fact stronger than ever. To many, this may seem presumptuous, even blasphemous. Yet it is no such thing-it is, in fact, a description of the church as it began!
We must remember that the early church existed in the midst of the Roman Empire. For the first 250 years of the church’s existence, the Roman Empire’s attitude toward it was at best indifferent and at worst highly antagonistic. In the 60s, Nero used Christians as human torches to light Rome in the night. By the second century, Christians were often food for lions and bears, to the delight of the Roman crowd. In the late third century, copies of the Bible were confiscated and burned.
And yet the church did not die-it blossomed. As Tertullian said, “the blood of the martyrs is seed.” Christians saw quite sharply what was important and what was not, and there was little opportunity for being noncommittal, lukewarm, or complacent. Like soldiers in the trenches, the bond among Christians was tightened as they opposed and withstood the fires of persecution. Thessalonica was a great example of this-consider what they experienced in Acts 17:1-9, and then see Paul’s commendations in 1 Thessalonians 1 and 4. They loved one another because they learned the value of the spiritual family through suffering!
Does this mean that the persecution was easy to experience? Absolutely not. Does this mean that we should pray for the government to oppose Christianity? By no means-the Bible does not tell us to do so. But what it does teach us is that come what may, we must still follow Christ.
“And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
It is easy to forget about our real foe and confuse those whom he has deceived with him himself. Fellow human beings are not our real foe-Satan is (Ephesians 6:10-18). Our fellow human beings are just acting on the basis of the one whom they are following, and it is quite likely that most are afraid of God in some way or another.
Therefore, we are commanded by our Lord and Savior to have no fear of any earthly authority. The worst thing that any person or government could do to us is humiliate us, harass us, beat us, and kill us. To a human without God, there is nothing worse. But to the Christian whose trust is in the Lord, it is “slight momentary affliction” in comparison to eternity (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17). We know that it is far worse to suffer at the hands of God than it is to suffer at the hands of man. But yet we are so easily manipulated into fearing the designs of men.
I put forth this exercise to demonstrate that there is no reason to be afraid-even if America turns hostile to Christianity, the Lord’s Kingdom will remain, and might even grow stronger. Will it mean that America might face the wrath of God in ways that Jerusalem or Rome did in days of old? Quite possibly, and even rather likely. But to whom is our ultimate loyalty? What are we really trying to preserve?
America is strong on “freedom.” Americans cherish freedom like nothing else. Prayers are offered in churches around the country that we may be able to maintain our “freedom.” Many, no doubt, see no problem with such a focus on freedom, and shudder at the idea that they could ever lose it.
But it must be remembered that freedom in the New Testament is not license. Freedom in the New Testament is freedom from sin and death-to instead subject oneself to God (cf. Romans 6, 8:1-10). We are “free” only in respect to sin, death, and the Law of Moses. Otherwise, we are constrained by our expected service to God (cf. Luke 17:7-10). There is truth to the old Stoic concept that we are all slaves. Paul says the same thing in Romans 6: you are a slave of righteousness or a slave of sin. Your only “freedom” is your choice of which master you serve.
This idea might be disconcerting to Americans, but such is what God has revealed to be truth. Furthermore, despite American protestations to the contrary, freedom is not necessarily always beneficial. Yes, freedom means that you can believe as you wish, within reason, without molestation, but it also then provides so many choices that many are led to despair. Freedom gives you license to act within appropriate bounds, but it also leads to individualism, and in many senses, relativism (After all, in the days of the Judges of Israel, there was no king, and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” according to Judges 21:25. See how well that worked out!). Freedom may give us security against persecution, but it also often leads to complacency and endless division.
We must confess that anything that involves mankind must be imperfect (Romans 3:23); that means that freedom is imperfect too. It provides benefits and detractions. Persecution and difficulty provides benefits and detractions. There is no “ideal climate.”
Does this mean that freedom is not valuable? We should be thankful in all circumstances (Colossians 3:17). We should appreciate the freedoms we have, but recognize that the future is in God’s hands, and we will experience what is willed for us to experience. We should take advantage of the freedoms we have to promote the Gospel of Christ, just as Paul constantly used his privileges as a Roman citizen to that end in the book of Acts. Nevertheless, we ought not idolize our freedoms. We must recognize the limitations and hindrances that come on account of freedom, and resolve to not get caught up in them. We must show the urgency of the Kingdom, devotion to Christ, the love of the brethren, and the mercy and compassion of Christ as if we were suffering and persecuted although not, substantively, experiencing suffering and persecution.
We must make the best of whatever circumstances are before us. We live in 21st century America, a land that is in many ways “post-Christian” and in great need of evangelization. This gives reason for hope and reason for despair. While many despair of the lack of general religiosity in the nation, it also requires a more sharply defined decision for Jesus. Since many are confused and hurting, having no moral grounding and little spiritual instruction, we have the hope of greater harvests (cf. Matthew 9:37-38). The decision is before us. We can sit around and complain about how things are not like they were, and establish self-fulfilling prophecies about the future of the nation and the church. Or we can recognize that every generation presents new challenges but also new opportunities, and do the best we can to promote the Gospel of Christ to lost and hurting souls.
Which, do you think, would Jesus choose?
Ethan R. Longhenry